JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Starting next Wednesday, only second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be available at federally-supported sites in Jacksonville, including the Gateway Shopping Mall and its two satellite sites in Oceanway and Jacksonville Beach.
Tuesday, March 24 will be the last day for people who qualify to get a first dose from the Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, and Miami federally supported sites. It will leave only two days for newly qualified people between 50-60 years old to be vaccinated at the largest vaccination clinic in Northeast Florida.
The only exception: the state plans to offer the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine during the last two weeks of operation.
Those looking for first doses will still be able to make appointments at retail pharmacies, like Walmart and Publix, as well as at state vaccination clinics like Regency Square Mall and Edward Waters College.
The federally supported sites were scheduled to remain open for eight weeks and shut down April 28, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. State officials say it’s possible the operation could be extended to meet increasing demand.
“The state understands how critical these vaccination sites are in increasing vaccine access to Floridians. The state is working closely with the federal government to evaluate if these sites can remain open past April 28,” said a statement from the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “This operation may be extended based on a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, increased vaccine allocations and resource availability.”
According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the Jacksonville FEMA satellite vaccine sites at Oceanway Community Center and the Carver Center in Jacksonville Beach will move back to the Normandy Community Center and Hammond Senior Center for the next three weeks. State officials say they want people to be able to return to the site where they got their first dose for their second shot.
The end of first doses at Jacksonville FEMA sites are happening as Gov. Ron Desantis is publicly discussing waiving age requirements entirely for the COVID-19 vaccine. In a press conference Friday, Gov. Desantis said he will likely lower the age limit to 16 and older before May 1.
The federal locations in Jacksonville added more than 4,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses a day to the supply in Northeast Florida. The Gateway Shopping Mall alone is capable of vaccinating 3,000 people each day.
The federally supported sites in Jacksonville have not yet experienced a single day where its daily allotment of doses was used.
Since March 3, the five state and federal sites in Jacksonville have only administered about 60 percent of the doses available between them, on average, each day.
Incident commander Ron Beesley said FEMA has sent out hundreds of staff to go into communities to not only inform them of the vaccine clinics but to also provide transportation to the sites.
“We hope outreach moves the needle in the near future. We see a shift in our demographic, a positive movement on that part. But we are still seeing there is a lot of misinformation out there,” said Beesley. “One is ‘they’re going to put a chip in me and track me.’ That is 100% false. Another is ‘they’re going to inject me with coronavirus.’ That’s also 100% false.”
Another obstacle has been the qualifying criteria to get a vaccine in Florida, specifically age limits. Until Monday, only firefighters and sworn law enforcement over 50, school personnel, medically vulnerable, healthcare workers and those 60 and older can get a COVID-19 shot.
The Gateway vaccine site in Jacksonville created a stand-by list several weeks ago for those who do not meet the criteria. People on the list will be called if there is a drawn unused dose but no one in line who meets the criteria. Monday, the incident commander said there had not been a drawn unused dose in six days.
“That list is over 300 right now and many of those don’t fit the criteria. So, there is an interest outside of the current criteria,” said Beesley.